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Howard urged to make radical reforms -

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Howard urged to make radical reforms

Reporter: Michael Brissenden

KERRY O'BRIEN:

It's a new Parliament, a new Speaker, a new fourth-term Howard agenda presented by a relatively new
Governor-General at today's ceremonial opening of both houses.

But even before the pageantry began, calls were coming thick and fast from some powerful business
quarters, urging the Prime Minster to seize the opportunities presented by the Government's looming
control of the Senate and embrace a more radical reform agenda.

For his part, Mr Howard has said he'll be using his new mandate wisely but can he resist the
temptation to pursue some of his own long-held beliefs and equally can he temper the now heightened
expectations of some of his more tough-minded supporters.

Political editor Michael Brissenden reports.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Today, as is always the case on such occasions, the political firepower was
ceremonial.

History and pageantry claimed centre stage as the 41st Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia
convened for the first time.

For the politicians and those who follow it closely such days provide a rare respite from the
political combat and underline the high-minded rhetorical claim that the things that unite our
political leaders are far greater than those that divide them.

JOHN HOWARD, PM: I've found that most people who come into this place on both sides come into it
with a desire to improve things, with very strong views and very strong values.

Some leave a mark, some don't.

We all, though, have a joint responsibility to elevate as much as we can the repute of this place
because, in the end, this place, this chamber, along with the Senate is the ultimate guarantor of
democracy and the sort of way of life that we believe in.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The first responsibility of the new Parliament is to elect a Speaker and today
the House formalised yesterday's Liberal Party room vote that saw David Hawker emerge in front of
Bronwyn Bishop and Bruce Baird for the coveted position.

Tradition is king on days like this and following the time-honoured pledge of speakers past, Mr
Hawker duly promised to be firm but fair in his dealings with both sides.

And there were high-minded promises flying about on all sides.

MARK LATHAM, OPPOSITION LEADER: As a reformed bad boy myself, I can assure you all the cooperation
and support and discipline that is needed to ensure that we bring the highest possible
parliamentary standards here and, of course, you will have the support of Labor Party members in
that vital task.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: David Hawker has been waiting a long time for this moment in the sun.

He has been in the Parliament 21 years and, as tradition would have it, he was dragged reluctantly
to his seat by two of his long-serving Victorian country colleagues, the Member for Mallee, John
Forrest, and the Member for Corangamite, Stewart McArthur.

STEWART McARTHUR, LIBERAL BACKBENCHER: I would just remind the House that the centre of political
gravity is now moving to western Victoria for these few fleeting moments.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, Mr Macarthur and David Hawker have both been in the Parliament since
1983, so who could begrudge them their long-awaited moment in the limelight?

Bipartisan pageantry aside, the ceremonial splendour, of course, shines all the more brightly for
the winners.

And just a few hours later, over in "the other place", as they call it, the Governor-General
performed his duty with a speech detailing the Howard Government's fourth-term agenda.

MAJOR GENERAL MICHAEL JEFFERY GOVERNOR-GENERAL: The Government was re-elected on a platform that
emphasised strong economic management, a determined role in world affairs and faith in the capacity
of Australians to exercise choice in their daily lives.

The Government has an ambitious fourth-term agenda.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: It certainly does.

And it has an unprecedented opportunity to implement it unopposed.

The October 9 election delivered John Howard a majority in the Senate as well.

He has promised already to push through the legislation that a hostile Senate has frustrated in the
past and top of the list is industrial relations reform such as unfair dismissal legislation.

But already, on day one it is clear there are some sectional interests with even greater
expectations.

DES MOORE, INSTITUTE FOR PRIVATE ENTERPRISE: We should do away with union rights to strike.

That's what we mean when we're talking about union privileges.

The union privileges should be completely removed.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Des Moore is just one of 20 signatories to a letter sent to the Prime Minister,
urging him to implement radical industrial relations reforms.

The signatories including long-time industrial relations warriors like Patrick Corporation chief
Chris Corrigan, the former Treasury secretary John Stone and the former Peko-Wallsend chief Charles
Copeman.

The group has proposed a national inquiry to look at the whole basis of the nation's industrial
relations system and this group, at least, has been waiting a long time for a political moment like
this.

DES MOORE: It's an historic opportunity in the sense that we've had a highly regulated labour
market in Australia.

So this is an opportunity to make the changes that will bring us up to date.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: And there are plenty of others talking about historic political opportunities
as well.

Day one of the new Parliament also saw the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry pushing for
significant tax changes.

PETER HENDY, AUSTRALIAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY: We should be approaching a situation
where we have only two thresholds, a much simpler system than today, as opposed to the five
thresholds we have today.

And, in the long run, we should be aiming to get the top marginal tax rate down to the same level
as the corporate tax rate, which is 30 per cent.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The Prime Minister has continually said that he won't use his Government's new
mandate recklessly, but it does present him with some unique problems and it's here that an
otherwise demoralised Opposition can sniff the one big political opportunity it may have in the
next term.

STEPHEN SMITH, SHADOW INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS MINISTER: Well, I think the Government is going to be
very seriously tested.

We know that today they're coming under pressure from effectively the HR Nicholls society, the
organisation who said that Peter Reith, with his balaclavas and his Alsatians, was the best
industrial relations minister we had seen for 50 years.

I think that will be the real test of this Parliament.

I mean, the Government has been trying to arrogantly trumpet the next three weeks as somehow a test
of Labor.

I think the real test of this Parliament will be how the Government conducts itself when it's got
unbridled power from 1 July next year.

The Government obviously has also got that in mind because they have essentially restricted the
number of parliamentary sitting weeks in the first half of next year.

So it will be the true test and the key won't necessarily be in what people are saying now, it will
be in how they conduct themselves after 1 July.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As well as industrial relations, the other big ticket item on the Government's
agenda is cross-media rules.

Last year, it went within a whisker of pushing through reforms to the media ownership laws which
would have allowed media moguls to own television licences and newspapers in the same city.

It is likely that legislation will be revisited and it will be no surprise to anyone that Kerry
Packer and Rupert Murdoch will be the major beneficiaries.

On the other side, Mark Latham will be under pressure as well.

There are a lot of people in the Caucus who will be looking closely at his performance in the next
few weeks and months.

So don't believe anyone who says the next three years in politics will be boring.

There's plenty of fun to come.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Political editor Michael Brissenden.

(c) 2006 ABC